MAA Section Meetings

Hood College has been heavily involved in the MAA for years and years, and our whole department always attends – and sometimes runs chunks of – the section meetings. Thanks to Project NExT I’d at least heard a bit about what the MAA does, but I didn’t really know much about how the meetings went. So in case you – like me – thought of these meetings as primarily for undergraduate students, I wanted to take you on a little tour through the latest meeting I went to of the DC/MD/VA section at Frostburg State University. And I’ll hope the AMS allows a little cross-promotion.

In our section, the meetings begin on Friday afternoon with a minicourse for faculty. This spring’s workshop – entitled “How to use as much inquiry as you’re comfortable with in your calculus class” – was run by Cassie Williams of James Madison University, Amy Ksir of the US Naval Academy, and Mitch Keller at Washington and Lee. I had to miss this one due to a late class, but I’ve enjoyed past workshops on everything from how to use Magma to how to teach Euclid’s Elements in a liberal arts math course.

Laura Taalman on the ubiquity of productive failure in mathematics

After the workshop is a reception and dinner, with the after-dinner talk given by Laura Taalman from James Madison. I’d seen Laura speak on the difficulties of 3D printing at the last JMM, but this talk put a different spin on it. Her talk “FAIL: A Mathematician’s Apology” discussed the long strings of failure that every mathematician has to learn to deal with in order to ever get anywhere. Not only did Laura share some of the more impressive failures she’d encountered, she gathered letters and videos of some other famous mathematicians to share the biggest time they did something dumb. I’m sure it was comforting and supportive for the students, but I know I wasn’t the only faculty member who appreciated the sentiment as well.

Saturday is the typical conference mix of short talks by students and faculty, a student poster session, and longer plenary talks, with a lot of games and activities for the undergrads. Paul Humke of St. Olaf gave a talk called “A Voyager from the Fourth Dimension,” followed by Alissa Crans at Loyola Marymount who spoke on how to divide cake so that everyone got the same amount of cake and frosting. If only all speakers had visual aids that the audience got to eat at the end! And one of our students even took second place in the poster session.

This was my last year as a Section NExT fellow, which is a kind of mini-NExT that’s run through the sections. We meet for a workshop in the fall on topics suggested by the fellows, we sit together at meals so we can meet new people in the section, and in the spring we help with the undergraduate activities. I’ve enjoyed judging the talks and the posters, as it gives me a better sense of how to prepare my own students when they go to conferences. If you’re interested in Project NExT but aren’t able to participate for whatever reason, I strongly recommend checking out what your section has to offer.

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